The John and Linda Coker Lecture
Probably no author of children’s books during the last 30 years of the nineteenth century was more popular than Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832–1899). A writer of so-called “rags to riches” stories, his name is fairly recognizable today as a synonym for success. Many magazine and newspaper writers, for example, observe in profiles of persons who were poor early on in their lives, but who worked hard and achieved prosperity, that “their careers read like those of Horatio Alger’s heroes.”
But do they? His books sold millions of copies, but few authors have been so misrepresented by their biographers as has Horatio Alger. Since the 1930s, almost all Alger biographers have based their works upon a purely fabricated book published in 1928 by Herbert R. Mayes, who years later would become editor of Good Housekeeping, a director of Saturday Review, and president of the McCall Corporation. Jack Bales has taught numerous UMW students about the significance of primary sources, and in his own search to find the lost life of Horatio Alger, he has pored over hundreds of them. The true facts about this famous nineteenth-century author and symbol of American success are showcased in his presentation for UMW’s Great Lives program.
Speaker: Jack Bales
Jack Bales’s career at the University of Mary Washington spanned more than 40 years, and he retired in 2020 as Reference and Humanities Librarian Emeritus. He is a longtime member of the Horatio Alger Society and is the past editor of its bimonthly publication, Newsboy. He co-authored, with Gary Scharnhorst, Horatio Alger, Jr.: An Annotated Bibliography of Comment and Criticism (1981), and he assisted Scharnhorst with The Lost Life of Horatio Alger, Jr. (1985). Bales has published many works on the Chicago Cubs, including Before They Were the Cubs: The Early Years of Chicago’s First Professional Baseball Team (2019).
Bales lives in Fredericksburg and is the father of two children, Patrick and Laura. When not researching and writing, he enjoys hiking with them, particularly in the Shenandoah Mountains.